Part 2: On Our Own
Lamar and the Rise of Texas Nationalism
Even today, Texans carry a fierce love of their home that transcends state pride and approaches (or sometimes even exceeds) national patriotism. Even the state tourism agency has used the slogan, “It’s Like a Whole Other Country.” Much of the feeling of Texas pride can be traced to roots in the Republic of Texas era, when Texans stood alone, facing big risks, big hardships, and big dreams.
The evening star (Texas) would embrace the shores of the Pacific as well as those of the Gulf. —Robert Irion, Texas Secretary of State, December 1837
One of those dreamers replaced Sam Houston as president late in 1838. Mirabeau B. Lamar wanted no part of U.S. annexation. Instead, he saw Texas as a future continental power that would rival the U.S. in size and power. And Lamar wasn’t afraid of Mexico. He avoided a direct conflict with Mexico and even tried to negotiate a peace treaty, but he also believed that Mexico was so weakened by constant revolution and upheaval that Texas could pick off the best parts, including the Santa Fe trade and the seaports and mineral wealth of California.
President Lamar opposed annexation and believed Texas would become a continental power stretching to the Pacific Ocean.
Prints and Photographs Collection,
In addition to empire-building, Texas could develop its economy. Although the two men detested one another, Lamar continued Houston’s policy of forging ties to Britain and France with an eye toward supplying those countries with cotton and sugar. And he saw a lucrative opportunity along the Red River, where smugglers were busy every day sneaking goods into the United States from merchants who wanted to circumvent the steep U.S. tariffs.
Under Lamar, Texas was aggressive, ambitious, and increasingly unpopular in the United States. Outside of the arms traders of New Orleans and the state of Mississippi, where Senator Robert J. Walker had become the most tireless advocate of Texas annexation in the country, most Americans were alienated by Lamar’s adventurism.
Annexation may have been a dead issue during the three years of the Lamar administration, but solid economic connections began to be forged between the U.S. and Texas. Besides smuggling, legitimate trade between Texas and the United States grew significantly between 1838 and 1841. Even more importantly for the future of Texas, many wealthy and prominent Americans made loans to finance the Texas government and speculated in Texas land. Now these men had a large stake in the future of Texas.
James Pinckney Henderson almost single-handedly brokered trade agreements and diplomatic recognition from England and France. Later he would go to Washington to bring his diplomatic talents to bear on another try for annexation.
Prints and Photographs Collection,
Texas also made progress in forging ties with Europe during the Lamar years. France granted diplomatic recognition in 1839, followed the next year by Holland and Belgium. Shortly thereafter, Texas received the long-awaited recognition from Great Britain. The British continued to be frustrated by the Texans’ refusal to give up slavery, but the economic advantages of developing the cotton trade and taking advantage of Texas smuggling were just too great to resist.
Britain also wanted to increase its influence in Texas because of the continuing unrest in Mexico. Between 1838 and 1841, Mexico dealt with several rebellions, was attacked by France for failure to pay its debts, and suffered another overthrow of the government. Now General Santa Anna was back in charge and threatening another war with Texas. Britain believed that any such attempt would end in failure and jeopardize its heavy investments in Mexico. Britain hoped to mediate a peace treaty instead and remove that source of instability from Mexican life.